The South Portland School Department is conducting an internal investigation into a confrontation between one its bus drivers and a Portland cyclist that has triggered a spirited online debate over car-cycle etiquette and the rules of the road.

Ryan Stover was riding his bicycle to work at 7 a.m. Wednesday on Deering Avenue across the street from King Middle School when a school bus driven by Leon Spear passed him close by. Stover, who was wearing a helmet camera, yelled at the driver that he was on camera.

Spear stopped the bus, opened the doors and asked, “You got a problem?” according to the video of the incident.

Stover replied that the driver had almost hit him and Spear said “I’m trying to get by. You’re in the middle of the street.”

As the brief interaction came to an end, Spear shut the doors. Stover had been supporting himself by holding onto the door because his riding shoes were clipped into the bike’s pedals. As Spear drove off, Stover yelled that his hand was stuck in the door. He was able to get it out and retain his balance without falling.

Stover reported the incident to a Portland police traffic unit and provided his video of the incident. Police responded by issuing Spear, who was picking up South Portland students at a Portland homeless shelter, a court summons for allegedly failing to use due care passing a bicyclist.

State law requires that cyclists keep as close to the side of the road as practical unless it’s unsafe to do so, and that motorists leave at least three feet of space as they pass. A motorist is not supposed to pass a cyclist in a no-passing zone unless it can be done safely.

The video appears to show that the bus was riding on the double yellow line as it passed between the cyclist and an oncoming car.

Suzanne Godin, South Portland school superintendent, said the district could not comment about the specifics or seriousness of the incident because it is conducting an internal investigation.

“Our expectation is that South Portland bus drivers will follow the rules of the road and we also expect all employees to interact appropriately with the community,” she said.

AN EXCHANGE OF VIEWS

The confrontation and citation has provoked an intense exchange on media commentary sites.

Many comments challenged the cyclist’s rights to the road, arguing that cars pay excise and fuel taxes, which help pay for street maintenance.

Cycling supporters countered that road maintenance is also funded by income and property taxes and that bicycles do not contribute to wear on the pavement.

One of the big gripes was cyclists riding as a group, two and three abreast, making it impossible for drivers to pass them safely. Another criticism was cyclists failing to stop for red lights and violating other traffic laws.

Another person responded that bicyclists have a right to use the road, and motorists should wait until they can pass a cyclist safely.

Stover said many of the comments misrepresented his views and that of many responsible cyclists.

“I don’t only ride a bike. I drive a car, too,” he said. Law-abiding cyclists “get a bad rap because of the bad cyclists, the people who run stoplights and stop signs and give us all a bad name. I feel like that is our biggest enemy.”

The confrontation was not staged, Stover said. He says he has worn a camera since a teenager hurled a soda bottle at him and hit him in the head.

Before he had the camera, he also had been rear-ended by a car while he was stopped at a traffic light and run off the road into a ditch.

John Brooking, a computer programmer who also is a cycling instructor, hopes the incident leads to a broader understanding of bicycle safety.

“I think the culture does not look at cyclists as drivers of vehicles. That causes motorists to be impatient, but also causes cyclists to not act like they are drivers themselves,” he said.

It is sometimes impossible to ride safely to the far right-hand side of the road. At this time of year especially, the edge of the road has an abundance of sand and broken pavement. Often, when a cyclist is in the travel lane, it is because of hazards to the side of the road or in preparation for turning left.

“Of all the crashes that cause injuries to bicyclists, most are solo crashes,” he said, and those typically stem from debris and other things found at the edge of the road. Riding close to a line of parked cars can be dangerous because somebody might open a car door, he said.